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Should Summitt switch?

Coaching men would be mistake for Vols coach

Posted: Thursday March 24, 2005 3:06PM; Updated: Thursday March 24, 2005 3:10PM
Pat Summitt
Coaching men would bring new challenges to Pat Summitt.
Elsa/Getty Images

There has been more than a little discussion lately about whether Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt would be a good choice to lead the Vols' men's squad, which hasn't been relevant on the national scene since Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld were tearing it up in the 1970s. After all, now that Summitt has more career wins than Dean Smith, perhaps it's time for her to move on to a bigger challenge. And at a school where men's hoops lags way behind football and women's ball, that job would be quite a challenge.

But Summitt should resist any temptation to switch genders. Wait, that didn't come out right. How about, "She should resist any temptation to switch over to coaching the men." That's better. And it's good advice, but not for the reasons you might think.

The 800-pound gorilla in this argument is whether Summitt deserves to lay claim to the title as "all-time winningest Division I basketball coach." In a purely statistical consideration, she does. No other D-I boss has more victories. That's simple addition. But comparing the women's and men's games is like comparing, well, women and men. They're completely different categories.

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Sadaharu Oh hit more home runs than Hank Aaron, but nobody is going to say the two men are comparable, since Oh played in Japan, and Aaron played in the U.S. John Gagliardi won more football games than Bobby Bowden. Again, a difference: Gagliardi coached in Division III, while Bowden has spent much of his time in the I-A ranks. (Except for that Samford thing, but that's a different column.) And Summitt has more wins than Smith. Congratulations. But we're talking about two different sports. Not better or worse. Different. Smith is the men's wins champion, and Summitt holds the women's title. Two different sports, two different leaders.

The reason Summitt shouldn't consider taking the men's job -- and El Hombre doesn't think she has given it any serious thought -- is that she could end up damaging the women's game by doing so. She is a giant in her sport, the most successful coach ever and the builder of the program every other schools wants to emulate. If she were to take over the UT men's team and not win big, there would be considerable joy among those who consider women's college basketball an inferior animal.

Now, El Hombre is no fan of women's ball, but the sport has made amazing strides since its AIAW days and in 10-15 years, could rival the men's game in popularity. Could. And, with the federal government laying siege to Title IX, in effect limiting athletic opportunities for females, women's sports in this country don't need any more heat, from sage columnists or anybody else. So, a truce.